On his fiery and autobiographical debut CD, TIMZ—aka Tommy Hanna, an American born rapper of Chaldean and Iraqi descent--gets right up in our faces, mixing explosive, Middle Eastern tinged beats with incendiary rhymes in an effort to shatter those ugly stereotypes that have plagued people who look like him since 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war.
Make no mistake, the title of his powerful, outspoken and heavy grooving 14- track collection—a nominee for Best Hip-Hop Album at the 2006 San Diego Annual Music Awards—says it all: the San Diego born and bred artist is Open For Business.
Propelled by gripping imagery and heavy grooves as his mouthpiece, TIMZ is on an intense mission to help Americans understand that Chaldeans, who are Catholic by faith, were the true native people of Iraq dating back to the ancient times of Mesopotamia and the flourishing times of Babylon. “The only remnants from that Iraq and the Iraq that we see now are the rivers. “That’s it, everything else has changed,” he says.
“They lump us into one big group of Bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins walking around. After 9/11, a few people came into my dad’s liquor store and gave him a hard time. But we’re hard working people who love our country. A lot of people hear my lyrics and hear the anti-Bush, antiwar sentiment and assume I’m a terrorist or I hate the U.S. But that’s not the case. I was born here but my parents were born in Baghdad.”
While TIMZ—a recent business administration graduate from the University of San Diego-- has been the pride of his hometown’s 20,000 strong Chaldean community (San Diego boasts the second largest flock of them in America after Detroit) for years, the extraordinary reaction to “Iraq” across the country is giving him some well deserved cred as a national artist.
Earlier in 2006, he and his manager Alvin Shamoun, who are principals in TIMZ’s independent label V.I.G. Productions, sent out CDs to 300 college stations across the country; within days, over 280 of those were putting the song into regular rotation. “Iraq” was #4 Most Added on the CMJ College Pop Radio Stations Chart, and hit #1 on 11 reporting stations everywhere from Pennsylvania, to California, from Chicago to New York and Florida.
“Iraq” is destined to be a true rallying cry during these difficult political times. “Dear Mr. George Bush,” TIMZ raps. “Why do you insist to make a fool of us? For over 200 years… we stood for what’s good, now we despised by our peers; And what do you...but add fuel to the fire and send in more troops. Oh the troops God save the troops; it wasn’t their war their lies their fault. America the beautiful what did they do to you, they used you its so indisputable!”
More than simply a brilliant rapper, composer and studio talent, TIMZ is a dynamic live performer who lives for the moments when hundreds of fans “are sending electricity through my body and I’m sending it right back.” He’s hosted numerous parties where he’s performed for anywhere from 250-1000 fans, and lately has been headlining at San Diego hotspots like the Crystal Ballroom, Club Heat and the Red Circle; he also recently hosted a record release party for Open For Business in Detroit, the city where his parents first settled when they came to America.
“For obvious reasons, ‘Iraq’ is the track that’s getting the most attention, but the concept of Open For Business is a day in the life,” TIMZ says. “We called it that because that’s what I am, open for business all the time. I am at work and if I wasn’t at work I was at school and if I wasn’t at school I was in the studio rapping. The title track sets the mood and tells really what I do on a daily basis, which is running my dad’s liquor store. It’s not 9 to 5, more like morning to night, 365 days a year. I’m here, I turn the lights on and I turn the lights off.”
“Other songs are about different aspects of my life cause you have to remember, I work hard but I play hard too,” he adds. “I have legendary West Coast rapper Spice 1 on ‘Public Enemy No. 1,’ a song about the reaction from people to me as I ride around, turn the music up and enjoy my fun California lifestyle. ‘How Can We’ is a party song, ‘Ride With Me’ is a spirited, high energy track and ‘Put It On The Pole,’ which I did with TQ, one of my favorite musicians, is a song about the all so popular strip club. On the whole, Open For Business, incorporates a little of everything in my life, my political views, my private life and my party life. I love the balance.”
TIMZ has also been all the rage on talk radio in San Diego for a variety of provocative reasons, the first for hosting a party and performance that was broken up by the police, allegedly by a noise complaint. The talk show hosts and their listeners were interested in the idea of an Iraqi American rapper, and wondered if it was just the noise that upset people. On the lighter side, TIMZ also did a hip-hop remake last year of “Super Chargers,” the San Diego Chargers theme song, that was first performed in the 70s. This year, TIMZ and his buddies have been hanging outside Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley before every home game, passing out CDs to fans—anything to spread the word that he’s truly, yep, Open For Business.
“Another big thing about my music is that it has a lot of Middle Eastern influences,” he says. “That’s been a big trend in hip-hop for some time, but I think it’s more authentic when an Iraqi American like me brings it to the table. I’m not shy about being proud of who I am, and it’s great to educate people about my culture by rapping about things that other artists can’t. But beyond the message, my main concern is to make great music. If the music isn’t great, then the message and everything that goes along with it is wasted. It’s all about the music.”